7 Ideas for Strong Legs When You Need a Leg Press Alternative

It wasn’t until I became a mum and stopped going to the gym that I realized the leg press was a machine I missed to strengthen my lower body. I was not inclined to give up my living room space to install a bulky, expensive machine, so I needed a leg press alternative.

I’ve listed my top seven substitutes. These exercises can be performed at home without equipment or with space-friendly tools.

What Does a Leg Press Do?

To know how to replace a leg press, we first need to know which muscles this exercise targets. The leg press consists of sitting on a machine and pushing a plate away, engaging the quadriceps, hamstrings, and glutes.

My alternatives, therefore, focus on the same muscles, and more. They can replace a leg press; some might even turn out to be more challenging than you think. For each workout, repeat the movement 8 to 12 times.

There is little if any fitness equipment needed for these leg strengthening alternatives and you can mostly substitute a proper weight for anything with, well, weight. I’ve used small garden sculptures in the past. That was after I was using bags of flour and of course one day I dropped it with a floury result.

One piece of fitness equipment that I’ve found useful for working out other muscle groups and not just the lower body, is resistance bands. Although they are otherwise known as “booty bands“.

I’ve been slow to the party with bands after being disappointed with the ones made of material and broke too easily. Now the designs are really comprehensive and are marketed as “complete gyms”.

This article includes affiliate links. If you choose to purchase any of the products we have discussed in this article, we may receive a small commission.

I haven’t tried the one below but it looks good quality and the reviews are surprisingly good. It’s on my “to get” list then I’ll come back to give it a full write up.

#1. Resistance Band

This workout is portable to any location. This leg press alternative with bands can be completed at home. Or pack your resistance band in your suitcase to do a few leg presses when you’re away from home.

Equipment required: Resistance band, mat or carpet flooring.
Bands come with various levels of resistance. Try getting two or three bands of different lengths and strengths to increase the challenge gradually.

Main muscles engaged: Quads, hamstrings, glutes.

Step by Step:

  1. Lay down: Press your back flat against the floor and bend your knees at a 90-degree angle.
  2. Place the resistance band: Adjust the band so that it passes through the center of your feet. On the opposite side, hold it firmly and keep your hands against your chest.
  3. Extend your legs: Start by pushing your legs up, forming a 90-degree angle from the floor.
  4. Release: Bend your knees and get back to your original position.

Advanced Version:

This time, extend your legs at a 45-degree angle from the floor. As you’re getting familiar with the movement, lengthen your legs until they reach a few inches off the ground.

#2. Squats

Squats are considered the leg press’s big rival. You won’t only work on major muscle groups, but also activate smaller ones to keep you balanced. Indeed, this movement requires the intervention of stabilizer muscles, such as the core. I love squats, or rather the feeling after you’ve done them; there are great benefits from squats as long as you do them properly with good form.

Equipment required: Bodyweight, barbell, or dumbbells.
You’ll even find special home kits, including a light barbell combined with resistance bands.

Main muscles engaged: Quads, hamstrings, glutes, core.

Step by Step:

  1. Stand straight: Place your feet parallel and shoulder-width apart.
  2. Lower your body: Bend your knees until they reach a 90-degree angle. Your arms should be in front of you, either extended or clenched together.
  3. Release: Come back to your starting position without locking the knees.

Advanced Version:

When you stop feeling the burn, start adding weight! Hold a dumbbell in front of you or place a barbell over your shoulder. Make sure to increase the intensity gradually to avoid injuries.

#3. Walking Lunges

Lunges make your glutes work harder than when doing squats or a leg press. Plus, as you’re engaging one leg at a time, it should prevent muscle imbalance. If one leg is stronger than the other, one won’t be able to compensate for the other.

Lunges are terrific but they can play havoc with sensitive knees so if you have any history of knee joint problems take it easy at first. As much as I enjoy it, running is a high impact activity and can leave it’s mark on the knees.

Equipment required: Bodyweight, dumbbell, or barbell.

Main muscles engaged: Quads, hamstrings, glutes.

Step by Step:

    1. Stand straight: Your feet should be shoulder-width apart. You can keep your hands on your hips, or extend them to the sides for more balance.
    2. Step forward and drop: Bring the right leg ahead and lower your hips. Your right knee should now show a 90-degree angle, and your left knee should almost touch the floor.
    3. Step back: Pushing on your right heel, come back to your starting position.

Advanced Version:

Just as with squats, completing lunges with dumbbells on each hand or using a barbell over your shoulder will considerably increase the intensity of the exercise.

#4. The Bridge

Also known as a hip raise, this exercise can be as easy or as challenging as you want it to be. If you’re a beginner, start by using your body weight. If you’re a more advanced leg presser, add some weight.

Equipment needed: Bodyweight, a weight plate.

Main muscles engaged: Glutes, hips, core (abs), hamstrings.

Step by Step:

  1. Lay down: With your back pressing on the floor. Extend your arms on each side, parallel to your body.
  2. Bend your knees: They should be at hip-width, and the heel of your feet should reach your fingertips.
  3. Glutes up: Raise your hips as high as you can, your core and glutes should remain engaged at all times.
  4. Release: Slowly lower your body back to the mat.

Advanced Version:

If you need more of a challenge, here are two alternatives:

  • Place a weight plate over your core.
  • Lift one leg up to the ceiling, at a 90-degree angle from the floor.

#5. The Wall Sit

The wall sit is an effortless movement to complete, but not that simple to hold! Although this workout activates other muscles, your quads might be the first ones to burn.

Equipment needed: Bodyweight, one weight plate, and a wall!

Main muscles engaged: Quads, glutes, calves.

Step by Step:

  1. Stand against a wall: Your back should be straight, touching the surface. Your legs should be in front of you, slightly away from the wall.
  2. Lower your body: Bring your hips down until your legs bend at a 90-degree angle. Push your feet a little further away if needed.
  3. Hold: Maintain the hold for 60 seconds.

Advanced Version:

If your quads and glutes aren’t burning yet, place a weight over your quads. Now you should be sweating!

#6. Step-Ups

This is another excellent leg press alternative that looks easier seen than done. While you may think it’s only a matter of going up and down, proper form is important to obtain good results and to prevent knee injuries.

Equipment needed: Bodyweight, dumbbell, or barbell.
You’ll also need a tool to step on. It could be an aerobic stepper, a stool, or a sturdy chair.

Main muscles engaged: Quads, hamstrings, glutes, core.

Step by Step:

  1. Starting position: Stand in front of your box, chair, or stepper. Place your right foot flat over it. Make sure that your knee stands at a 90-degree angle.
  2. Step-up: Using the force of your glutes and quads, bring your left leg to the top of the platform. Avoid leaning towards your right leg as you push up.
  3. Step-down and repeat: Get back to your original position, and repeat starting with the left leg.

Advanced Version:

Once you’ve mastered the form, try with a dumbbell on each side or even a barbell set over your shoulders.

#7. The Hip Thrust

If you liked the bridge exercise but are looking for a workout with more range of motion, the hip thrust is worth giving a shot. You’ll work hardcore on your glutes and hip extension.

Equipment needed: Stepper or bench.

Main muscles engaged: Glutes, hips.

Step by Step:

  1. Starting position: Sit with your back against the bench or stepper, your elbows resting behind you, on the platform. Your legs should be bent, shoulder-width apart.
  2. Push-up: Using your glutes, raise your body until your knees form a 90-degree angle. Your upper back should almost be resting over the platform.
  3. Hold and release: Stay for a second and release.

Advanced Version:

It shouldn’t take long to become comfortable with this move. When this happens, grab a barbell and place it over your hips. Padding, such as a yoga mat, can be used to release some of the pressure on your hips.

Keep Pressing

If you aren’t able to hit the gym, these seven leg press alternatives will keep your lower body training going. The leg press is a fantastic movement for your quads, glutes, and hamstrings.

Yet, you’ll likely find that the above substitutions can deliver more than what the leg press does. These alternatives may evolve into a long-term solution for a well-rounded routine.

Plus, no matter how easy or hard you take your workout, make sure to always warm-up and cool-down before and after a session.

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